Keeping Your Leadership Team Focused with Danny Shader

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This is a podcast episode titled, Keeping Your Leadership Team Focused with Danny Shader. The summary for this episode is: <p>Today we’re welcoming Danny Shader to the podcast. Danny is a multi-time tech founder and is currently the CEO of PayNearMe. Tune in as he shares advice on how CEOs can keep their leadership teams focused and unified. </p>
🤝 The people share common characteristics that keep them aligned
02:52 MIN
🧐 Keep the perspective that everything will keep changing
01:00 MIN
🚀 A real-life example: Apollo 13
01:27 MIN
🔍 Transparency is critical
02:09 MIN

Intro: Welcome to the Daily Bolster. Each day we welcome transformational executives to share their real- world experiences and practical advice about scaling yourself, your team, and your business.

Matt Blumberg: Welcome to The Daily Bolster. I'm Matt Blumberg, co- founder and CEO of Bolster. And I'm here today with Danny Shader. Danny is a multi- time tech founder with a couple of exits. First with Accept. com, which was acquired by Amazon, and then he did a stint at Amazon then with Good, which was acquired by Motorola. Now he is the CEO of PayNearMe in the FinTech space. And he was... For the archives, he was the first head of developer relations for Netscape. Danny, good to see you.

Danny Shader: Nice to see you. Thanks for doing this, Matt.

Matt Blumberg: Yeah, no, I appreciate you joining me today. And one of the things you and I have talked about a couple of times over the last couple of years is that we- ... In this never- ending period of uncertainty in the world, it's been eight quarters since VCs freaked out and said there's going to be a recession in two quarters, and here we are. And it still feels like, not quite sure what's going to happen next year. There's geopolitical uncertainty, domestic political uncertainty, climate uncertainty, economic uncertainty. So this is the stuff that CEOs have to deal with every day. So my question for you is, how have you kept your team focused and motivated during this never- ending uncertainty? What are the top couple things you've done?

Danny Shader: Well, let me just put this in context. So this feels like a blip in time, because I'm about to enter my 16th year of working on this business. And most of the executive team has been here from the beginning, so the real question is, in my mind, how do you hold people together through all kinds of stuff?

Matt Blumberg: And I'm happy to talk to you about that too.

Danny Shader: Yeah, I think it's all part of the same thing because it's interesting, over the course of this period, or the course of this history, the number of things that have been hot in the valley and then blown up, and then the next thing's hot and blown up, and meanwhile we keep chugging along.

Matt Blumberg: And 16 years, you must've started right after the financial meltdown.

Danny Shader: Exactly right. Now we have this sizable business. We moved well over a billion dollars through the network last month and growing really quick with accelerating growth. And frankly, I think what holds everybody together is that it's unusual to find a group of people who have, I think this magic set of characteristics where, to a person, I think everybody in the organization is smart, hardworking, has high integrity, and has character and grit. And I used to work for a guy named Bill Campbell who was a legendary valley guy.

Matt Blumberg: Absolutely legendary.

Danny Shader: And if you looked at the people around him, superficially, they all looked really different. But if you thought deeply about it, those were the core characteristics of that group of folks, and it's easy to find people who have one or two of those, but to find people who have all four is unusual. And when you're in a group like that, I think you tend to realize it's really special. And at the end of the day, I think people want to do things for the right reason. And one of the best reasons is to do it for the people you are around, so if you can get with that kind of group of people and realize it's special, then you'll want to get up every day and work with those kinds of people forever if you can. And I think that is the core glue that holds the company together. And then it just so happens we have a good business that's gotten better, so that helps. But I think it's mostly about the people.

Matt Blumberg: Yeah, it's certainly the case that great people want to work with great people, great people motivate other great people, and that great people raise the bar on other great people. And it's also true that the ups and downs of the world around you impact your mood and impact your team's mood. No matter how good the relationships are and how good at execution they are.

Danny Shader: So just a couple of thoughts on that. One is that a friend of mine, a guy named Joel Jewett said, and I think this is great. Is that" the experience of being in a startup is sinusoidal, but the periodicity, the period keeps getting longer." In other words, in the early days, you're a hero, and then the next day you're a goat, and then you're a hero, then you're a goat. And then it's, this week you're good, and then you're bad for a week, and then a month you're good, and then a month you're bad, and then a quarter you're good. And then they always talk about it in public companies, there's no such thing as one bad quarter, it's one bad year, but things cycle and come back. And the trick to that is realize if you're feeling great, just remember the next day you're likely to feel like crap, so enjoy it. And if you're feeling like crap, don't worry, because the next day things are likely to go well. So I think there's, keeping that perspective makes a big difference. But-

Matt Blumberg: Well, keeping that perspective is really important for you as the CEO, but you actually have to impart that perspective on everything else, right?

Danny Shader: Correct, but I think if you believe that yourself, it's easier to impart it on others. And then the other thing is, I always happen to be talking about this with somebody yesterday, but that guy, Gene Kranz, who ran the... He was the guy with the white flathead who ran mission control or something.

Matt Blumberg: Oh. Yeah. Apollo 13.

Danny Shader: Right, so in Apollo 13, he's played by Ed Harris or something. But I remember seeing interviews with him and he was always famous for saying, " Work the problem people" and stuff like that. But there was one thing, one interview with him once, I heard, that it stuck with me. It was probably 30 years ago I heard this, where he says to them, " Problems, we love problems. We chew them up and spit them out," and I remember thinking, if you can have that attitude when you're grinding through this stuff, you'll get to a good place. Because look, the reality is that tech is a rising time, so if you can stay in the game, you're likely to get to a good outcome. So I'm fond of saying a team of reasonable, smart people pointed in the general direction of a good market are likely to get to a good outcome, so your job as the CEO is put together a good team, point them generally in the direction of a good market, be flexible, and then don't run out of money and don't run out of heart. And so if you can think of problems as part of that, and you get the right group of people around you, something good's going to happen. So just hang in there.

Matt Blumberg: So let me ask you one follow- up that just occurred to me about this. The thing that Mission Control has going for it and NASA is, there's full transparency. Everybody's looking at the dashboards, everybody's looking at the screens, and Gene Kranz doesn't have to figure out how to parse out information. He has to figure out how to help people interpret it. I don't know the level of transparency that you bring to your organization. I suspect it's pretty high and that you bring... It's even higher at the executive level. But what role do you think transparency plays in, again, the long game, and especially when the world around you is on fire?

Danny Shader: It's funny you should say that, because we have five values of the company. One of them is do the right thing, deliver results, be respectful, transparent, and flexible. So I'm a huge believer in transparency. It comes from a couple of things. One is that I think reasonable people faced with the same data will tend to reach the same conclusions. So when people aren't reaching the same conclusions, they probably have different data, or they're making different assumptions. And so if you can be transparent, you can get rid of that element of uncertainty and get everybody focused on the same thing, so that's one thing. Second thing is that I think transparency breeds cohesion. So that... I worked for one of the big consulting firms earlier in my career, and I always thought it was interesting that they never actually told us what our revenues were. They just gave us an index of revenues.

Matt Blumberg: They also never told you that they billed you out at twenty- two hundred dollars a day while paying you$ 200 a day.

Danny Shader: Probably didn't say that either, but I remember thinking, they don't trust us, so why would I trust them, right?

Matt Blumberg: Right.

Danny Shader: So I've always had the view, if you want to have people keep secrets, tell them everything, and then let them know if we don't keep doing it, then we can't keep sharing. So we have a bias towards that, both, because I think it tends to keep confidential information confidential and also because again, it creates that common context for people to make good decisions.

Matt Blumberg: Excellent conversation, Danny Shader, thank you for joining me.

Danny Shader: Thank you.


Today we’re welcoming Danny Shader to the podcast. Danny is a multi-time tech founder and is currently the CEO of PayNearMe. Tune in as he shares advice on how CEOs can keep their leadership teams focused and unified.